Monday, January 26, 2015

A Token Female, Violence, and Self-Defense

I recently reviewed the evaluations for the Defense Against An Armed Rapist course (DAAR) held in November—overall they were very positive, but one comment stood out for me personally: “I felt very much as if Martha were there for a token female presence.” Ouch!

One of the reasons IMPACT keeps getting better is that we review course evaluations for observations and recommendations of women and girls who participate in our programs. The above was a unique observation not only in the last DAAR course but in all the others offered over the last 25 years. Although I could dismiss it as a singular comment, I don't want to do so because it suggests that a key principle of IMPACT--female leadership--was not obvious to at least one participant. I want to take that seriously and reflect upon what I can do differently for the future while also assessing what it suggests about the challenges women face in teaching self-defense with men as co-teachers and role-playing aggressors with weapons.

I looked to the singular evaluation for some clues about what I can do differently. Her explanation for her comment was that I had significantly less weapons experience than the two suited instructors. Her perception of my lesser experience doesn't reflect reality, but even if it did, inexperience with weapons does not equal an inability to teach self-defense against an armed attacker. There is no requirement that instructors have any experience with using weapons since our focus is on self-defense.

Even though experience with weapons is not a requirement for teaching self-defense against an armed attacker,  I have made sure I train with weapons to deepen my own understanding of the risks and opportunities a defender has when attacked by someone with a weapon. As a martial artist, using knives and sticks is an integral part of my practice. I've taken extra steps (and expense) to learn how to use a gun. I have taken two firearms courses and have practiced shooting with revolvers, rifles, and shotguns on both outdoor and indoor ranges. In this past DAAR course, I made reference to the fact I wasn't a very good shot (as did one of the suited instructors), but neglected to say that the lesson for a self-defender is learning how difficult it is to shoot well and that without adrenaline-based practice, facility with a gun can disappear quickly when faced with using a gun a real-life situation.

So, the message to me is that in future courses, I need to focus on my experience with the weapons we teach to defend against and highlight how this experience informs how I teach. In addition, I need to take leadership for introducing one of the weapons and demystifying its risks and opportunities for a defender..

Although the comment was about me personally, I believe at a deeper level it was also about perceptions of women and men in terms of violence and self-defense. Being seen as a "token presence" means that there was no value placed on the significant role I played in the course:  (1) course design, including the content of each scenario and techniques participants' learned; (2) the intricate scaffolding for a cohesive and timely experience of circles, demonstrations, deconstruction, drills, and scenarios; and (3) my demonstrations and teaching of everything they learned, my individualized coaching through each scenario, facilitating every circle, and creating space for each participant as well as the other members of the team.

Sometimes the public and media focus on the suited instructors and ignore the contributions of the lead instructors. Previously when that has happened, I've thought it was unexamined sexism—where what men do is more valued than what woman do-- but such a comment from a woman who has experienced the class makes me think that it is more than simple sexism and that the higher value placed on the suited instructors may also reflect a complex relationship between gender, violence, and self-defense: that the "skills" of an aggressor (whether real or simulated) are more valued than the skills of a defender and that unarmed self-defense is less valued than armed aggression.This suggests another reason why our mission of female-led self-defense instructor teams is so important.

Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Instructor and Director Emeritus

Monday, January 19, 2015

Shouldn’t we be putting all our resources into prevention strategies focused on perpetrators?

From Women’s Self-Defense Frequently Asked Questions. Jocelyn A. Hollander, Ph.D. University of Oregon, September 15, 2014.
  • No. Violence against women is a complex social problem. Ultimately, large scale social changes will be needed before violence against women can be stopped. However, this kind of social change is slow—and so far, our efforts have not been very successful. If we focus only on perpetrator-focused, “primary” prevention strategies, we are condemning millions of women to suffering rape and sexual assault. While we wait for these efforts to work, empowerment-based self-defense training can provide an immediate, and effective, antidote for sexual violence.
  • There has been little research on the effectiveness of prevention strategies focused on potential perpetrators. Most strategies that have been rigorously evaluated have been found to be ineffective at preventing violence.
  • Preventing sexual violence will require a comprehensive range of efforts. Some efforts should be long-­term (e.g., cultural climate assessment and change), others should be medium-­term (e.g., bystander intervention training), and some should be short-­term (e.g., self-­defense training). We do not have to choose only one approach; a complex social problem requires that we address it on multiple fronts and in multiple ways.


Gidycz, Christine A et al. n.d. “Concurrent administration of sexual assault prevention and risk reduction programming: Outcomes for women.” Violence Against Women. In press.

Gidycz, Christine A, and Christina M. Dardis. 2014. “Feminist Self-­‐Defense and Resistance Training for College Students A Critical Review and Recommendations for the Future.”Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 1524838014521026.

Orchowski, Lindsay M, Christine A Gidycz, and M J Murphy. 2010. “Preventing campus-­‐based sexual violence.” Pp. 415–447 in The Prevention of Sexual VIolence: A Practitioner’s Sourcebook, edited by K L Kaufman. Holyoke, MA: NEARI Press.

Breitenbecher, K. H., and M. Scarce. 1999. “A Longitudinal Evaluation of the Effectiveness of a Sexual Assault Education Program.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 14(5):459–478.

Hollander, Jocelyn A. 2014. “Does Self-­‐Defense Training Prevent Sexual Violence Against Women?” Violence Against Women 20(3):252–269.

Sarnquist, Clea et al. 2014. “Rape Prevention Through Empowerment of Adolescent Girls.”Pediatrics peds.2013– 3414.

Sinclair, Jake et al. 2013. “A Self-­‐Defense Program Reduces the Incidence of Sexual Assault in Kenyan Adolescent Girls.” Journal of Adolescent Health 53(3):374–380.

Monday, January 12, 2015

New IMPACT Chicago Office Location: 4057 N. Damen Chicago

In the 90s, the first central office for IMPACT Chicago was in the Berger Park Cultural Center on Sheridan Road. When the mission of the Cultural Center became more focused on art and music, we moved to make room for other organizations more appropriate for the space. With the help of IMPACT graduate Shelley Bannister , we were able to sublet an office in Lincoln Square from naprapath Karen Bruneel . We sublet from Karen for almost 10 years and then from Mary Ellen Boyte for a couple of years. When Mary Ellen’s landlord no longer wanted us to sublet her space, we were fortunate to be welcomed by Lin Shook Schalek, the owner of Lin Shook Studio at 4057 N. Damen in Chicago.

Here are some of the things we like about our new office space:
  • The office is in the same location as a classroom space we will be using in  2015.
  • We can store our mats on site. 
  • There is lots of free and metered parking in the area. 
  • We are near the Irving Park and Damen bus stops. 
  • We are within walking distance of the Irving Park-Brown Line stop. 
  • We are in a lively neighborhood with restaurants, cafes, small shops, and a CVS.
Mary Ellen will continue to collect our mail as long as we need her to do so. Thank you, Mary Ellen! Thank you also to Tara Brinkman, IMPACT Chicago Registration and Workshop Coordinator, for coordinating our office move!

Contact IMPACT Chicago
New address:
IMPACT Chicago
4057 N. Damen Ave
Chicago IL 60618
New phone: 312-971-7119

Monday, January 5, 2015

How can IMPACT help you make and keep New Year’s Resolutions?

Making resolutions increases the likelihood that you will reach your goals than if you don’t make them, however, less than 10% of the people who make resolutions actually achieve them. What makes IMPACT a successful program for learning and maintaining self-defense skills can also work for making and keeping New Year’s resolutions:
  • Build on your strengths.
  • Engage your whole self—your mind, your feelings, and your body.
  • Start with small steps and gradually increase the challenge. 
  • Build on consecutive successes—start with what you are certain you can do, do it, and then move to another manageable challenge. 
  • Ground your making and keeping resolutions in your own experience. What has worked for you in other areas of your life? How might you build on those experiences in attaining a New Year’s resolution?